Bui Vien backpacker street is probably one of the most overwhelming parts of Ho Chi Minh City.
That’s not surprising considering it’s a backpacker street. But even so, spending a night at Bui Vien backpacker street proved to be more overwhelming than I’d expected. It was in equal parts amusing, thrilling, shocking, and sometimes infuriating.
You might be reading my reaction as one borne of innocence, devoid of an understanding of backpacking culture in general. But I assure you that’s not the case.
I’ve been to both Khao San Road and Pub Street — the other famous backpacker streets in Southeast Asia. The former belongs to Bangkok and the latter to Siem Reap. While both of them were fairly dizzying, they pale in comparison to Bui Vien backpacker street.
I generally quite enjoy backpacker streets. I don’t consume liquor — about 90% of what backpacker streets are about — so I always feel slightly disconnected. But I still amuse myself by simply staring wide-eyed at all the depravity around me.
Walking sober down a backpacker street in Southeast Asia offers the purest and kitschiest form of entertainment possible. Who the hell needs the real housewives and the Kardashians when you have the shitty backpackers of Asia? And I say that with all the tenderness I can muster.
Anyway, my point is, I’m neither a prude nor an ignoramus. But my night at Bui Vien backpacker street still proved to be quite overwhelming.
In this article, I’ll give you a brief overview of what Bui Vien backpacker street is like. Following that, I’ll tell you about my scandalous night wandering amongst the streets of Bui Vien.
About Bui Vien Backpacker Street
Bui Vien Backpacker Street is a single long street lined with street stalls, bars, pubs, and coffee joints. During the days, you can get from one end of the street to the other in about 10 minutes. At nights, it will likely take you considerably longer.
Only foot traffic is allowed in Bui Vien backpacker street because of how crowded it is. Furthermore, backpackers here have a reputation for being drunk senseless so having cars drive around would be a hazard.
Bui Vien backpacker street is lined with shops catering to everything a tourist can need. They have cheap street food stalls, souvenir shops, bars and pubs, coffee joints, travel desks, hostels, and SIM card shops.
At night, Bui Vien backpacker street is the most lively place you can imagine. It’s loud, often obnoxious, and glittering with neon signs and flashing lights. During the day, the backpacker street is always reeling from a hangover, dazed and unkempt.
A Brief History of Bui Vien Backpacker Street
Bui Vien started developing into a backpacker street in the post Vietnam War period. A lot of global tourists started coming into the country. A lot of them had more money to burn than the locals made in a whole year. But they still weren’t rich enough to afford proper hotels and luxury.
So families with properties converted parts of their home into a hostel, or a cheap “touristy” restaurant, or a pub. And that’s what gave rise to the Bui Vien backpacker street.
Even now, a lot of the shops in Bui Vien work in a similar model.
My Bui Vien Backpacker Hostel
The hostel I stayed at — aptly named Bui Vien hostel — was actually a family’s home.
The family resided in a room in the ground floor, along with the reception. The rest of the floors consisted of dorms for tourists.
Every morning, the family would prepare a home-cooked meal for the backpackers in the hostel up on their terrace.
If you’re gonna’ stay at Bui Vien backpacker street, I highly recommend it. You can find the latest prices on the Bui Vien Hostel Booking Page.
My Night at Bui Vien Backpacker Street
My night at Bui Vien backpacker street started off with me looking for Grindr guys to show me around.
After much scrolling, I set up a date with a cute Vietnamese boy for later that evening. He wanted to take me to a local gay club close to Bui Vien backpacker street.
The “Gay” Bar in Bui Vien
The club was definitely trendy and hip, with pink fluorescent lights, a rooftop bar, and chill live music. However, it wasn’t particularly “gay” as I’d expected.
Apparently, the city’s closest approximation of a gay bar is one merely frequented by gay people. They don’t have any overtly gay-exclusive clubs.
After downing some cocktails and some coy under-the-table action, we decided to head over to a dance club. It was still early in the night so people weren’t all shit-faced yet. There was still some sense of decorum in the streets.
However, Bui Vien backpacker street was starting to rear its nightly head.
As I walked down Bui Vien backpacker street, the vibe had considerably changed. The clubs lining the streets were blasting off loud raucous music in complete disharmony with their neighbors. A lot of impromptu “massage” parlors had opened up and several ladies tried to lure me into their den. However, that was all expected. I’d already been groped in Pub Street in Cambodia so it wasn’t particularly shocking.
My Grindr date and I danced in the club which increasingly grew stuffier by the minute.
As the night wore on, our inhibitions slipped away and we openly embraced each other and made out in public. It was actually quite liberating.
Most people dancing there were pretty drunk. One girl in particular was dancing with a bottle of beer in her hands. She accidentally hit some guy’s head with the bottle and it shattered. He started bleeding. She responded by apologizing profusely and started pouring the beer over his head. Well, alcohol is supposed to be a disinfectant.
Frat Boys in Dresses
Somewhere along the way, I’m not sure where, I lost track of my Grindr guy. He was probably lost in the crowd, never to be heard from again. I was slightly disappointed but I shrugged and hopped back into Grindr.
I got pinged by a Vietnamese-American dude who was eating Pho in a street joint right across from me. We had dinner together. He laughed at my flailing attempts to command the chopsticks into submission. And we hit the streets again.
This time, things had grown a lot more wild. A lot of the guys were now wearing dresses, and some were even wearing bikinis, quite brazenly.
It was honestly the queerest thing I’ve ever seen.
What is this? I asked my new Grindr date. Some kind of a drag or gender-nonconformity event?
I doubt it, he replied. They don’t particularly seem like social justice warriors.
Nope, he was right about that. They looked more like your regular drunken white frat boys, only, in short bikinis and dresses.
We tried to ask some of them what this was all about. But they were too drunk to answer straight. Upon further investigation, we finally found out what was up.
One of the bars had a Ladies Night offer going on. They were giving ladies free drinks. A few guys decided to put on dresses and proclaim themselves ladies to avail of those drinks.
The bar offered them the free drinks in good humor.
The stunt soon caught on like wild fire. And soon, half the guys in Bui Vien backpacker street were wearing dresses.
While Free Booze was ridding the world of arbitrary gender expectations, Grindr Guy No.2 and I went club hopping.